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LOCAL FOOD PRODUCERS ARE WORRIED DESPITE PROVINCE’S CONFIDENCE IN BUY LOCAL PROGRAM

Last year’s weather means smaller harvests and rotting produce this year for local food producers, and retiring farmers and lacking support has some concerned about the longer-term future of local food production.

Some local food producers on the island and beyond say the combination of extreme weather events and wavering support from government and community has them uncertain about the future of food production in the province.

On January 29 CBC Nova Scotia reported that independent grocers and their local farmer producers were running low on suppliers that normally last well into the winter months.

Krista Gallagher, owner and operator of Local Source, an independent grocery store with two locations in Halifax and Elizabeth Milton, manager of Abundant Acres Farm, which owns the Warehouse Market also in Halifax told CBC that several factors have resulted on the low stocks.

The extreme weather events of 2023, which included one of the wettest summers in the province’s history, resulted in smaller yields and produce rotting because of the moisture. 2023 was one of the wettest summers on record.

On the island the Cape Breton Food Hub is experiencing many of the same challenges. Although it has never had a lot of local produce available through the winter, last year's growing season has made it even harder on both this year’s crop and livestock farmers.

“Crops that should have lasted through the winter are rotting prematurely in Cape Breton as well, with yields that were lower than usual,” said Estelle Levangie, the Food Hub’s Interim Executive Director. “But also livestock farmers are suffering as well since the summer was terrible for making hay which means it is in short supply this winter and more expensive,” she said.

The other big worry for those who want to supply us with local products is the high number of retiring farmers without succession plans.

“Not only farmers are retiring, but seasoned farmers are trying to find other ways to make money because producing food just isn't paying the bills, which is not looking good for the future of food production,” said Levangie.

On the mainland farm owner Elizabeth Milton echoes Levangie’s concerns.

"We're facing a lot of farmers who are retiring right now, and we need support from the government to bring new farmers in and allow them access to farmland," she told CBC.

But it isn’t only government support that local food producers need.

"It's going to be more difficult to eat local if we're not supporting [farmers] now because there's no one else to take over that farm," Gallagher told CBC.

They all agree community support is needed. That is in part why they are sceptical of the province’s recent claims that Nova Scotians are spending about 30 percent of their food bills on local products.

In a previous issue of The Third, the Food Hub told us of its challenges selling their products directly to consumers and its decision to investment in infrastructure to process foods into value-added products to attract customers.

“Now more than ever our farmers need the support of their community to survive,” says Levangie.

“The easiest way to do so is by buying from local farmers and food producers, on a regular basis not just when supplies are low at the grocery store,” says Levangie. “Farmers can't sustain their farm business unless they have steady sales.”

 

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